The latest winter storm to strike Toronto made the morning and evening commutes a mess on Wednesday, as drivers dealt with slick and snowy surfaces, transit users faced weather-related delays and police told people to stay inside if they could.
Fifteen centimetres of snowfall was expected in Toronto but, by the time the storm stopped at around 8:30 p.m., it looked more like 20 centimetres had fallen, piling on top of snow left from the last storm.
A full clean-up of major routes and side streets is expected to take between 16 and 18 hours.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, the following weather-related closures had been announced for the rest of the day:
- York University has cancelled all evening classes at its Keele and Glendon campuses
- Humber College has cancelled all full-time, continuing education and online courses at all of its campuses
- The Toronto District School Board has cancelled all of its evening programs
- Seneca College has cancelled its evening classes and sports
- Sheridan College has cancelled all classes starting at 5 p.m. or later for all of its campuses
- George Brown College has cancelled all of its continuing education classes
- The Toronto Zoo has closed for the day
- The GTHL has postponed all of its games scheduled for Wednesday
The snow also kept the Scarborough RT closed for much of the day. Service on the line stopped mid-afternoon so that crews could clear ice and snow from the tracks, and the TTC later said it would remain closed for the rest of the day. Shuttle buses were instead running between Kennedy and McCowan Stations.
City crews were out salting the roads early, in a bid to keep the roads clear for the morning commute. But they were up against heaviest single-day snowfall of this winter season and by rush hour, traffic was moving very slowly.
Some drivers told CBC it was taking two hours to travel from the Burlington and Oakville areas into downtown Toronto.
"The snow is making for slick conditions on the roads and some blowing and drifting snow and reduced visibility," said CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland.
"It's really a good day to take it easy slow down."
Toronto police were sending out a similar message, but going as far to as to say that if you don’t have to go anywhere, you shouldn't.
If you don't need to drive pls stay off the roads or proceed with caution. Conditions are getting worse. #drivesafe!!— Richard Laing (@TPSralaing) February 5, 2014
When speaking with reporters at Toronto City Hall, Mayor Rob Ford said it was an ugly day for driving and he urged motorists to ensure they have enough gas in their vehicles and to have food and water with them, in the event they get stuck.
"Please prepare for the worst. This is probably, I'm not going to say the worst storm, but it's probably going to be one of the worst that we've had this year," he said Wednesday.
Hundreds of calls to police
A steady stream of road closures and on-road collisions were reported by police in Toronto, York and Peel regions, as well as by the OPP.
Toronto police say they responded to 191 collision calls between 4 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Between the scores of collisions and the additional calls for vehicles that simply became stranded, the wait for a tow truck was also long.
Katar Jaliwala was among a group of drivers that got stuck on a steep and slippery portion of Avenue Road.
“Immediately, I called for the tow truck service and I had to wait about an hour and a half,” Jaliwala told CBC News on Wednesday.
Out in Peel Region, police said they had responded to 110 calls to 911 that came in between 1:30 p.m. and the mid-afternoon. They had also dealt with another 100 non-emergency calls.
In a telephone interview, Const. Lilly Fitzpatrick said that at one point on Wednesday, dozens of vehicles were backed along an incline near Eglinton Avenue West and Creditview Road in Mississauga because of the conditions.
Along Highway 401, there was a pileup involving more than 150 vehicles near Kingston, Ont.
Also east of the city, there was a separate collision in Trenton, Ont., involving 25 tractor trailers and 10 vehicles.
During the morning, GO Transit warned passengers to leave extra time for their trip. "We expect delays," GO said in a tweet.
The TTC also had weather-related delays on its streetcar routes and no service on the Scarborough RT due to switch problems at McCowan station.
The RT remained closed from mid-afternoon for snow and ice removal.
That shutdown prompted one Toronto councillor to wade into the long-running debate over the council-backed plan to extend the subway to replace the aging Scarborough RT.
They are closing the SRT for 3hrs. Still think above ground transit is better than a subway? I'll take a subway over an LRT any day.— Gary Crawford (@CllrCrawford) February 5, 2014
More than 400 departing and arriving flights were cancelled at Pearson International Airport on Wednesday, in part because of the problems in Toronto and also because of snowy weather in the northeastern United States.
Due to snow here and in the Eastern US, we're seeing delays and cancellations today. Confirm your flight status here: http://t.co/EwvCcg8Svj— Toronto Pearson (@TorontoPearson) February 5, 2014
The airport said that it had more than 100 pieces of snow-clearing equipment in service on Wednesday, in a bid to keep the runways operating safely.
But the snow-covered roads made it difficult for people to simply reach the airport.
One woman who spoke to CBC News said that her drive in to the airport from Cambridge, Ont., which lies less than 80 kilometres from Pearson, took about two hours on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the City of Toronto also issued a cold weather alert, which makes available more services for the city's homeless.